Entries from January 2011 ↓

The power of journalism

[This post is a part of the Carnival of Journalism hosted by DigiDave. You can read the entire collaboration here.]

I’m lucky – that’s what a mom friend told me yesterday during a snow day while we watched our kids tear up my house. I had to ponder that after I had waken up at four in the morning AGAIN so I could help my newsroom manage school closings after a particularly deep dump of snow in the area. But I had to think about it. The core of journalism is to inform the community. I have the opportunity to wake up at ungodly hours and drive through dangerously deep snow so I can make sure others don’t do what I do. I get to inform my community about the things that are most important to them. At the same time I get to show future journalists how you get the job done.

Working in a newsroom is a blessing and a curse. So is the job of a journalism professor. My friend told me she thought I was lucky because I am a professor. She explained it’s because I have something to show with my job. I do have a lot to show for it. I have hundreds of former students doing amazing things in the industry and beyond. But lately I’ve made sure my focus as a professor is expanded. The things I teach my students are useful for anyone. A teacher in Palo Alto, California has a similar perspective and is teaching her high schoolers the power of journalism. NPR-affiliate KQED’s MindShift blog spoke to Esther Wojcicki about her teaching philosophy. She thinks teaching journalism skills to all high school students will help them become more media literate and understand how to create digital media. She helped launch a site called 21stcentury. The site is rich with information that could be useful for anyone looking to enhance their knowledge base.

I think it’s incredible how many freshmen arrive in college with little to no experience in digital media. Their parents blocked them from using social media and other digital publishing tools during high school in fear they would make bad choices. That fear is not isolated to high school parents. My college students tell me their parents are constantly emailing them links to worst case scenarios. The message: “Don’t use new social media tools. It might hurt you.”  The fear of making a mistake is holding back so many people. I attribute that fear to a lack of digital media literacy. If more people saw the strengths of these new communication tools, I honestly think community connections and conversations can only get better.

Universities are inside a comfortable bubble where you can push the envelope. My job gives me an unusual opportunity to work in a practicing newsroom and teach. After years in “normal” newsrooms, the added university link has afforded me so many opportunities to explore, make mistakes and learn so much about the changes in the journalism industry. Those changes also translate into changes in how communities communicate and share. Why not expand the university bubble and bring the entire community into that zone of comfort? The lessons I am teaching should spread into the community.

When I first taught journalism, I required my students to volunteer during the semester to prove to them that it’s important to connect with the community and not just work in the newsroom. You can’t be a good journalist if you don’t physically connect with your community. I feel the same way about universities – especially journalism schools. We have powerful knowledge that can only help an ever expanding community need.

I’m taking action. I really believe my university connection has afforded me knowledge that’s worth spreading. A portion of my capstone students will help me connect the lessons learned in my Advanced Internet Applications class and sharing them with our community. One team will create how-to videos and guides for our newsroom’s audience so they can feel more comfortable using social media tools and basic digital publishing platforms. Another team will help the new Social Media Club chapter that I’m helping found in our community. Through the club, my students will help develop educational community events. I even have a team learning how to create a social media-based fundraising event for a local family resource center as part of Twestvial Local 2011. I want to break down those walls of fear and help many more people understand why this changing world is worth jumping into – not blocking.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if these ideas expanded into the fabric of an entire university community?

I am lucky.

Making a change

A new year is a great reason to make changes. So after months and months of discussions with my husband, we’re making the move to living a DSL-only lifestyle. We use DirecTV for our television (mostly sports) viewing and more of our movies and television shows are coming from Netflix Instant. We rarely use our landline and we dislike the company we’re working with. So today I made a call to a locally owned phone/internet provider and signed up for their DSL. When it moves in, we’re getting rid of the landline and living a new cellphone-only lifestyle. It’s kind of strange but only because we’ve never lived without a landline. We have hundreds of current and former students who already go this route. I shouldn’t be concerned. But for some reason, it feels a little strange. I was raised in a telecommunications family. My dad used to sell telephone switches and other components when I was a kid. We had dozens and dozens of phones in our house at a time. But everything changes. My home with be land line free. My parents sell real estate these days. It’s just another symbol of how we all need to be flexible with changes at work and at home.

So with a cell-only lifestyle, is there anything I need to change in my at-home world? I’d love your input. My only guess is I need to make sure my cell phone is nearby – have plugs everywhere to keep the phone charged. Any other advice is appreciated!

[Photo credit goes to spanut on Flickr]

Big things for 2011

I’ve had a chance to wrap up 2010 with a great group of students followed by an awesome winter break with the family. We celebrated the holidays with both sides of our family (we held a mini-Christmas with my husband’s side of the family followed by the full thing with my side). We also got to take the kids to Disney World for four days. It was awesome… and when cell phone connections were working properly, I had a chance to pick up a few Gowalla stamps of the parks and some of the rides. (I was bummed I couldn’t connect inside the Magic Kingdom where they had a holiday-only Cinderella’s Castle stamp.) I did snag a stamp for all four parks… and one of my favorite rides, Toy Story Mania.

I also tried to play with the many items you can collect and trade in the game. All in all, most spots had dozens of Mickey hats. Once you collected a hat, it was tough to find many others. In the end, I collected a Mickey hat, a hitchhiking ghost, a tour bus and a partner statue. I had hoped to find some extra surprises with the park’s Gowalla experience, but maybe because I had a hard time with my AT&T service, I didn’t find it.

Now that I got to enjoy my fun and games, it’s time to get back to work. I’m co-teaching a class on campus that is known as the journalism for non-journalism majors class. My partner in crime, Jake Sherlock, and I plan to bring as many perspectives and views of the industry as possible. I have a great group of students signed up for my capstone class and I’m fleshing out some great projects for the students. My newsroom is also working on launching a new content management system. This is a really exciting change for us!

I’m also planning on attending at least three conferences this year: SXSWi, BlogHer bet and BlogHer ’11. I’m trying to take some of my journalism focus and look at the many new ways I can expand it. I have so many students who are learning their core skills can be used in many non-traditional ways. I hope I can arm myself with more knowledge to help guide them beyond the newsroom experience. So while I’m working on teaching and helping run the KOMU news, I’m hoping to continue to expand my views. It’s challenging to see everything out there if I’m just in the newsroom working with in a more traditional setting. Luckily I work in an environment that allows me to try to innovate.

So, grab your thinking hat and join me while I try to figure out how we can take all this vast knowledge of the changing world and spread the word. My first step towards that goal is helping launch a Social Media Club in our town. I’m looking forward to helping share knowledge in my community and helping grow a more converged alliance of people in my area who understand the growing power of how communication and sharing is changing!